WINTHROP HARBOR, Ill. – The mayor of a small town in Illinois has publicly apologized on behalf of the town after elected officials told a homeowner that they would need to remove a 9/11 memorial and other ‘signage’ from their yard or face a daily fine of $500.
In an email sent to Law Enforcement Today from the mayor’s office, Mayor Dr. Michael A. Bruno apologized and agreed to let the memorial stay.
The apology comes just days after news spread that the town officials had told the family living on the property of an old elementary school that they would need to remove the memorial from the yard.
The town held a meeting at the end of last week to talk about the issue of the memorial.
Below is the full statement from the mayor’s office.
“Re: 911 Memorial – 628 College Avenue, Winthrop Harbor, IL
On August 8, 2019, village staff observed potential code violations on private property located at 628 College Avenue, a former elementary school. A visual perimeter inspection identified a number of property maintenance violations, including the existence of noxious weeds and grass that exceeded 8” in height, grass and weeds growing through cracks in the parking lots as well as fence code violations related to unsecured fence panels lying against a chain link fence and fence posts not supporting fence panels.
In addition, two sign code violations were noted. One violation related to a sign designating the property as school and the other related to a 911 Memorial. The condition of the landscaping surrounding the 911 Memorial in question led to our belief that the sign identifying that tribute no longer represented an active memorial. Corrective action taken by the owner now confirms to us that the site does continue to serve as an active 911 Memorial and therefore the sign is not obsolete as defined by the village sign code ordinance. Based on this information the sign does not have to be removed.
The administration, staff and the residents of Winthrop Harbor have the utmost respect for the memory of the tragic events that took place on September 11, 2001, and for those who had fallen. To the extent that any misunderstanding of the actions taken to address the described property maintenance issues may have offended those who are or have served our country it was not our intent and we sincerely apologize.”
Mayor Dr. Michael A. Bruno
Here’s some background on the issue.
Leigh Gardella-Wood and her family live on the property in Winthrop Harbor where the former town elementary school was built. After the building had closed down in 2011, she and her family bought the property and moved in.
But recently the town issued a directive to Gardella-Wood, saying she needed to remove ‘all obsolete signage’ associated with the former school from her property or risk paying a fine. Included in their demands: the 9/11 memorial that stands on the property.
The official letter stated that if Leigh and her family didn’t remove the signage, including the memorial, within 14 days of the receipt of the letter, they could face some serious fines.
Leigh says that when she originally moved onto the property, the large boulder with the plaque was still there. Town officials had apparently said that they wanted to move it from the property within one year, but she said that even after contacting them, they made no attempt to remove it.
She’s baffled that they had made such a big deal over it.
“I have never heard of a plaque being an issue. There are people who have plaques in their yard all over the place – it is not gawdy, it is not hurting anybody,” Gardella-Wood said.
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The memorial originated in 2012 when a Girl Scout raised funds for a plaque to read ‘We Shall Never Forget’ and be mounted on the boulder. According to NBC 4, when officials attempted to remove the memorial years prior, they received a ton of backlash from military veterans in the area.
Seems as though history repeated itself this week.
“We made donations to it, I say it needs to stay there,” Richard Coombe, of the VFW, said.
Woman says community wants her “obsolete” 9/11 memorial removed https://t.co/mFYjlonnhA
— NBC New York (@NBCNewYork) September 3, 2019
“It is a memorial to people – why move something that is a memorial to people?” said another.
Because of that, they gave up.
And until the backlash this week, it appeared as though they were trying again.
“People died on 9/11. It’s not something we can just forget. It is coming up – how do you forget that?” she continued.
The homeowner said she’s not sure why town officials had been trying so hard to get rid of the memorial.
“I don’t know what to think because I don’t understand what they are thinking. I don’t understand how a community that is so close, that they would find a plaque or memorial obsolete,” Gardella-Wood continued. “People worked really hard to have that put there.”
A local VFW had volunteered to take the memorial and have it displayed on their property if she’s forced to have it removed from her yard.
The 18th anniversary of the September 11th attacks is on Wednesday.
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